They came from hundreds of Seventh-day Adventist churches and congregations from across Inter-American with a common purpose -- to acquire new skills in order to guide children toward a life of discipleship.
The first-ever Children’s Ministries Leadership Convention in the church’s Inter-American Division drew more than 500 leaders and teachers to church-sponsored Camp Kulaqua in Florida, United States last month. The historic event gave them the opportunity to recommit to the work of directing children to a closer walk with Jesus.
“We want you to become genuine disciples of Jesus in order to shape the kind of disciples Jesus needs His children to become,” said Dinorah Rivera, Children’s Ministries director for the church in Inter-America and organizer of the event.
“If we want a church tomorrow, we need to invest today in those we hope to be the church of tomorrow,” Rivera said. One of the keys to membership retention lies in the effectiveness of Children's Ministries in the home and church, she added.
Top church leaders agree, saying that strengthening children and youth in the church is a top priority.
“We want every child stepping into our Adventist churches to experience joy and discover God’s love and grace through the spiritual leadership of leaders and teachers,” said Israel Leito, president for the church in Inter-America.
Attendees participated in dozens of seminars on effective leadership, children’s health, spiritual development, technology, psychology and more.
Linda Koh, Children’s Ministries director for the Adventist world church, spoke to the hundreds of leaders and teachers about the spiritual giants that will carry children through the challenges of life.
“As children’s ministries leaders, we need to become strong effective disciplers of children and encourage, empower and equip parents and families to be able to guide children and be able to provide the kind of supportive churches in which they need to grow," Koh said. In keeping with the theme of the convention, "Fit With Jesus", Koh challenged leaders to model honesty and a close relationship with Jesus.
“We are here because we believe in this ministry and work with all our might to nurture our children spiritually,” said Mari Ruth Murillo, who, along with 50 of her peers, traveled from the church’s South Mexico Union, where she serves as Children’s Ministries director.
Lorraine Vernal, Children’s Ministries director for the church in Jamaica, said she left convinced that methods toward connecting with and discipling children need to change.
“We are competing with so many distractions that captivate our children’s minds, like video games, television, dysfunctional homes, food addictions and we as leaders must think outside the box if we don’t want to lose opportunities to inject Jesus into their hearts,” Vernal said.
Vernal was particularly happy to see during the convention better ways to reach children with a healthy lifestyle. Promoting nutrition and health in Jamaica has connected with the society, which is plagued by obesity and lifestyles diseases in children, she said.
Already this year, Vernal has organized several health fairs geared to educate children in the church and the community on eating well, exercising and dealing with issues that can affect their health.
“We are serious about the health of our children,” said Bernal, who is working with the public school system in Jamaica to begin a series of health and nutrition activities for pupils in the coming months. “Reaching the children in our community is part of building a better church as well,” Vernal added.
Vianka Mendez, Children’s Ministries director for the church in the metropolitan region in Guatemala City, attended presentations by a team of experts from church-run Loma Linda University in California on how children are affected in the wake of natural disasters.
“I had never realized how vulnerable children could be after a disaster and looking for simple and deeper signs could aid in protecting them from being further affected,” Mendez said.
“Our country is affected by natural disasters almost every year and we must be on the look-out to apply techniques to help children overcome the trauma and help them through the process,” she said, suggesting that the task could be coordinated through a partnership between churches and professionals in the community.
The convention left Rivera excited and thankful as she continues efforts to equip Children’s Ministries leaders and teachers who are passionate about the hundreds of thousands of children who come in contact with the Adventist Church across Inter-America.
“I dream of a church that not only teaches children how to be ‘Fit with Jesus’ but lives in constant discipleship and seeks out the needs of the community,” she said.